Back when Adam and I were first married, we wasted a lot of food and ended up taking several trips each week to the grocery store, simply because we didn’t plan well for our weekly meals. I can’t tell you how many times I threw out untouched heads of lettuce or a whole bunch of brown bananas, literally watching our money go directly into the trash can. I knew there had to be a better way of attacking our weekly grocery list.
So, a few years back, I started weekly meal planning and it has truly been a saving grace for our budget, our taste buds and my sanity.
NOTE: I’m going to add in a disclaimer right off the bat, because it’s not realistic for every family to keep their grocery bill under $100. My family only consists of 4 people and Chase is a very good eater who will eat almost everything we do. He is not old enough, however, to eat us out of house and home like some of the other mamas with school agers, so it’s sort of an apples to oranges comparison. That being said, my hope is that my strategies can help some of the moms with more mouths to feed shave even $20 or $30 off the $200 or even $300 they’ve said they spend each week. Here are the methods to my madness:
1. Consider using a chalkboard menu
Everywhere we’ve lived, we’ve had a chalkboard wall in the kitchen where I could write out our weekly dinners. Something about the visual of seeing the week planned out helps me stick to it and consider it (somewhat) set in stone. Instead of painting a whole wall black in your kitchen, consider using this very cheap, easy to apply/remove chalkboard contact paper that I bought on Amazon. It works just as well as chalkboard paint and you can peel it off easily when you want to remove it. They also sell smaller peel and stick tiles that might work better for a smaller space (we used them in our old apartment when our kitchen wall space was at a premium.) If that doesn’t appeal to you, simply write out the week on a sticky note or on your grocery list. Just the act of writing it down helps, in my opinion.
2. Stick to a set day of the week for shopping
I do my shopping on Monday, because I’m home during the day and the stores are typically quieter than on the weekend. In my opinion, always shopping on the same day helps your schedule stay consistent and you can adequately plan for 7 days worth of meals. For me, anything more than 7 meals is too much for one trip and things start to go bad after more than a week in the fridge. Sometimes, I will only shop for 5 days if I know we have a busy weekend and things are touch and go as far as what we’ll be eating. I’d rather have to go out twice than waste food that went uneaten. I usually put my foods that will go bad quickly in meals at the beginning of the week (fish, meats) and save the things that won’t go bad as fast (pizza dough, chicken sausage, veggies, potatoes, etc.) in the middle or end of the week.
3. Plan one meatless day
Buying seven days’ worth of meat or fish can add up quickly. To save a little money, set aside one day per week for a meatless meal. This could be anything from homemade pizza to pasta with a veggie side or a casserole/soup that traditionally includes meat bulked up with extra veggies instead. This can save you a lot of money and allow you to stretch your budget further.
4. Look into a grocery delivery service if it’s available in your area
Some groceries stores like the one closest to us, have curbside pickup or home delivery service. Besides the convenience factor (you usually don’t even have to get out of your car or haul your kids out of their carseats), the biggest advantage is in the budgeting aspect. With online ordering, the site tallies up your grocery bill on the side as you add items to your cart. We have a pretty firm grocery budget, so when I see the numbers start creeping toward that threshold, I look in my cart to see what I really need and what I could potentially get rid of. On average, I spend about 15% less using the online grocery ordering service than when I’m in the store because it eliminates impulse buys and allows me to trim our list down to what is really essential. It also saves your weekly lists, so you can add items you purchase often and save yourself some time during the ordering.
5. Try to pare down the snacking
Easier said than done with young kids, I know, but snack foods REALLY add up. Packaged snacks are typically a lot more expensive than unprocessed snack foods like fruit, veggies and cheese due to the added convenience factor of being able to grab-and-go. That said, there are certain packaged foods my kids love—graham crackers, Goldfish, yogurt tubes, etc.—so I try to stick to just two or three of those per grocery trip to keep costs down and avoid wasted food.
6. Be flexible
This might mean different things to different people. For some, it could mean buying generic rather than name brand products to save money. For others, it might mean shopping at a couple different stores or planning meals around weekly sales to get the best deals. For those (like me) who’d prefer to shop organic but can’t afford the resulting cost, it might mean picking and choosing certain organic items and living with the rest.
Of course, none of this is set in stone and sometimes we mail it in and decide to get takeout on a “leftover” night, thereby blowing our budget. We learn to be flexible, because sometimes I’m just not into making a meal that takes more than 20 minutes, especially when my kids are crying and my husband isn’t home from work yet. But overall, these small steps allow us to stick to a pretty firm budget and still enjoy our meals. If you’re interested, here’s a post about my all-time favorite easy dinners, which is where many of our favorites come from each week.
If you’re struggling to reduce your grocery bill, where can you give a little? Is there a way to stretch your dollar further without sacrificing the things that are important to your family?